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Friday, July 30, 2010

Peace Corps - The Prequel

About this time last year I received my invitation to serve in the Peace Corps. Since I’ve had a few inquiries about how one joins the Peace Corps and what the application involves, here ya go. The Peace Corps is a US Governmental volunteer organization dedicated to supporting the development of countries that ask for its support. The Peace Corps has three goals 1) provide technical assistance to areas where this assistance is requested; 2) promote a better understanding of who Americans are so we don’t seem like the assholes we appear to be, and 3) educating Americans so they have a better understanding of the folks where volunteers serve since we as Americans are basically geographically retarded. You won’t find that exact phraseology on the PC website.

The service commitment is twenty seven months. The first ten weeks is training after which you’re sworn in as a Volunteer and sent off to the middle of nowhere where you serve the next two years. A lot of people asked me why the two years? As I’m learning now, the 1st year is a lot of training, getting to know your community and, most importantly, letting the community gain confidence in someone that speaks their language for shit. It’s not until later in the first year or into the second year when your projects get off the ground, depending on the program and country.

Volunteers come in all shapes, sizes, colors, backgrounds, beliefs, and religious affiliations (though those may change during the course of service. Well, color not so much). All have to be citizens of the US. Most of the volunteers are younger folks out of college. There are a few retirees and there are folks like me that are mid-career. I was the oldest in my training class but am happy to report that the next training group has at least two people older than me.

The application process is fairly grueling and can last sometimes up to a year or more. First you submit an extensive application with letters of recommendation and a few essays. If your application looks good, then you are contacted by a recruiter for an interview. Again, the interview is fairly extensive. You get asked where in the world do you want to go (I said anywhere), what kind of work do you want to do (water & sanitation, environment, health, youth development, education, small business development, education, etc.), what’s your motivation to join the PC, etc.

If your recruiter thinks you’re PC material, they nominate you for a type of job and a region of the world. My nomination was for environmental/natural resources in Latin America. After the nomination, you’re run through a battery of tests. You have to submit your fingerprints for a background check and go through dental and physical exams. Apparently the PC doesn’t want criminals with irritable bowels and bad teeth so how I got in is beyond me. I guess since you're going to be out in the boonies you have to be somewhat healthy.

Once you clear all that, and that piece does take a while, (my dentist said I grind my teeth so that set my application process back about three weeks - I wore my recommended mouth guard twice by the way) you get a notification that you’ve cleared all your checks and that another recruiter should be calling you. If you’re in a relationship, they want you to fill out a romantic involvement worksheet to make sure you’re not going to get in country and get all weepy and sentimental and I miss you and all that and wind up quitting. That’s where the waiting game begins. It could be in one month or it could be six, you don’t know and you can’t really call anyone to follow up. They do advise you to not to make any life changing decisions like telling your boss to go f*ck him or herself, selling your house and all your possessions, and waiting by the phone for that call. It might not come for a while and if it does it might not be the news you want to hear.

When the call does finally come, you have another phone interview with the placement office. Now I hate phone interviews because I get kind of tongue-tied for some reason. But I gotta say I nailed this one in large part because I’d been going through the application process for some eight or nine months at this stage, was committed to it, eager to serve, and had done a ton of research. At the end of the phone interview, the placement officer said she believed I would make a great volunteer and that she was submitting an invitation to serve in the PC. Great! Where? Oh, I can’t tell you that but check your mail in the next two weeks or so. Mother F#cker!

The torment! Now I had to wait for the United States Postal Service to deliver my formal written invitation (It’s no secret that I’d had an ongoing bloody battle with the USPS in Chicago for years where I wound up on the losing side of said battle so it killed me that now I had to wait for something in the mail that those USPS f?ckers may or may not choose to deliver. There are horror stories of letter carriers in Chicago just throwing sacks of mail in dumpsters because they were too lazy to do their job. After countless meetings with those assholes in my local post office there I don’t doubt it one bit. But I digress…)

I did get my invitation in the mail. Peru. Water & Sanitation. Couldn’t have gotten a better placement as far as I was concerned. Get to brush up on my Spanish and apply my career track sort of. Now what? I’ve been through this 9 month application process, I’ve been invited. Do I really want to do this? I visited the PC blog website while sitting in my cubicle at a job which I loved and payed me well and read a couple postings from volunteers in Peru. I decided right then that I would be stupid if I didn’t do this. I ran across the street to the student lounge of the DePaul building and called to accept my invitation.

So here I am in Peru eight months in country. For about as long as the whole application process took. Was it worth it? Answer…Yes.

If you’re interested in the Peace Corps check it out their website If you’re still interested go ahead and apply, it could take about 12 months. They give you plenty of opportunities to f*ck up or back out. Who knows? Maybe you too can have the opportunity to serve your country, learn a new language, see some great places, help out some folks in developing countries, and have diarrea for the next two years.

1 comment:

  1. Good post're a very eloquent writer...remember what I said - Travel Channel. Win & Blake's Adventures.